THEY NEED a name.
Fans of the New York Giants brag about their defensive-end-laden "NASCAR" package. And many NFL anchors, analysts and media members have appropriately defined the personality of the Super Bowl champs through their defensive front. But in a head-to-head comparison Sunday, with a national-television audience watching, it was the Eagles' defensive front that proved more disruptive, the Eagles' defensive front that is quickly defining the personality of this 3-1 team.
All it lacks, really, is one of those monikers for those of us with simple minds to latch onto.
"How about 'Misfits?' " said veteran defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. "I mean, we've got 'Fletch' here now so we finally have someone taller than 6-2. But Misfits fits."
"We all were the kids in detention," Jason Babin said when he heard Jenkins' tag. "We all have a little bit of a checkered past. But we fit in together and we work well together."
Each week, it seems, the discussion surrounding this team is about Michael Vick and Andy Reid, about how many times the Eagles will throw the ball against how many times they will run the ball, about getting that balance in "the run game" and "the pass game." (Why, oh, why can't we just say run and pass?)
Each week, it seems, the real discussion should be about the multimember defensive line and the disruptions it creates, about game plans adjusted, altered and abandoned by the opposition in the name of protecting the quarterback.
After Sunday night's 19-17 victory over the Giants, Babin - with a smile on his face - spoke about being chipped continually by additional blockers, and spoke about his bookend on the other side, Trent Cole, experiencing the same.
"Oh yeah, it bothers us," he said of the relative lack of recognition this front has received outside of the region. "But I think it's obvious when they dedicate a chipper on each side of the line all game long that . . . "
He faked a wince. "Put it this way: My left side is bruised and his right side is bruised. If they're going to do something like that, we know how they feel."
"We've got extra attention the last three games," Cole said. "This year is totally different. Totally different. I've been playing for 8 years and I ain't never been chipped like that. The tight end was hitting you, or the back was hitting you, and you get off that, you've got to fight the tackle. And then you've got to fight the guard. We didn't make an excuse of it. We just said, 'OK, we've got to fight harder.' "
Film doesn't lie. Nor do some statistics, like those tracing points scored against the Eagles this season. In their first two victories, 23 of the 39 points scored against them could be directly traced to offensive turnovers. Then came the disaster in the desert, in which the Cardinals scored touchdowns after a fumbled punt return and after James Sanders picked up Vick's fumble near the Arizona goal line and ran 93 yards the other way.
You take away even half those points and this defense may already have received a name. And one more intimidating than Misfits.
Then again, as Jenkins points out, it really does fit. Of the men rotated in and out, only rookie Fletcher Cox is oversized. Cole and Babin are generously listed at 6-3. If Brandon Graham is 6-2, then I have just undergone a midlife growth spurt. Darryl Tapp is listed as 6-1, Derek Landri at 6-2, Phillip Hunt at 6-even.
In comparison, the Giants' big names - Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka - are all listed at 6-5. And starting tackle Linval Joseph is 6-4.
But that's size, not heart.
"The thing about our d-line is that if you look at everybody, there were no overnight success stories," said Jenkins, who finally looked like himself on Sunday. "Everybody has had to work their tail off to get to where they are . . . It ain't always been pretty and we know we have a lot of things to work on. But the heart of this team is to keep fighting. Keep pulling out games like this."
The Eagles, of course, are a first-place team by a margin of four points. That's one extra play, maybe just one extra push. There's some luck involved for sure, but that's not what beat New York on those final plays. Pressured, Eli Manning would have thrown a pick along the sideline had Ramses Barden not performed primitive laser surgery on Nnamdi Asomugha's already-injured right eye.
That may have influenced Tom Coughlin's decision to twice attempt a field goal on third down with enough time on the clock for two plays. And on the final, second field-goal try? Well, did anyone notice how that Eagles defensive front all jammed to the middle seconds before the ball was snapped?
"We knew we had a really good push up the middle," Babin said. "So we knew he was going to get it up high. We were just holding our breath watching that ball come down."
It came down just a few feet short of the uprights. A year ago, maybe it makes it, maybe that jam doesn't happen amid the last-second confusion and the Misfits walk off the field looking like, well, misfits.
This year is not last year.
"It really has come down to winning more one-on-ones than the other team," Babin said. "And this team has had more time to gel. And it's made a difference in the atmosphere of the team."
Contact Sam Donnellon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon. For recent columns, go to philly.com/SamDonnellon.